Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Transformation of Muslim Societies By Science & Technology?

Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

Within this broad framework [of colonization] the following changes affected Muslims all over the world.

During the colonial era, this transnational concept of Ummah was replaced by another operating concept that was characteristically western in its origin. This new concept was that of nationalism which gave rise to the idea of state as a basic political unit, defined by concrete boundaries. The emergence of nationalism in the Muslim world during the colonial rule produced, for the first time in their history, an idea which divided the Ummah on national and regional grounds. This division gave rise to numerous countries in the Muslim world and created nations and states out of what was a community of believers.

The second change, which affected the Muslim world deeply, was the position of the Arabic language. Being the language of the Qur'an, Arabic had achieved the status of lingua franca in the Muslim world. In countries where it was not the usual spoken language, it was commonly taught at the elementary level and those who continued their studies beyond the basic level, invariably learned it as the language of scholarship. This shared language was the single most important vehicle of communication in the Muslim world. More than the mere language, it was also a sharing in the flow of ideas, concepts, technical terminology, metaphors and parables. It was as if a river of wisdom and the teachings of the ancestors nourished generation after generation in all regions of the Muslim world. This change produced two effects: it destroyed the vehicle of communication among various Muslim communities and, in those countries where Arabic was not used as a spoken language, it made the Qur'an and the vast corpus of traditional knowledge inaccessible to even the educated class. Thus removed from the language of the Divine revelation, Muslims in these countries were left with no defense against the onslaught of Western ideology.

The third significant change in the colonized societies was the replacement of the traditional system of education by the Western educational system. In the Muslim societies, the governing principle was Unity of God (Tawhid) and submission to His Will and thus education in the Muslim world started with the learning and memorization of the divine Word, it progressed in degrees to prepare the student for a life of piety and observance of the Divine Law. 

In its advanced form, Islamic tradition of learning included various branches which functioned within a hierarchy wherein astronomy, medicine, mathematics and various other disciplines existed in an inter-related form and in harmony with each other. The set of beliefs forming the core of Islamic teachings was operative in the development of curricula. The universe was created by an omnipotent God, it was subject to His Will, it was created with a purpose, there was an end for it and a Day of Reckoning. 

Knowledge was acquired in a manner that required a period of apprenticeship, reverence and respect for teachers and it was not an end in itself, but a means. It was not linked with the gains of this world and least of all with jobs in the administrative system. One learned because it was an obligation (farida) and for the sake of understanding the nature of this life and the universe. All of this was replaced, with far-reaching ramifications, by the Western educational system which had evolved, after the seventeenth century, out of a worldview in which Man, rather than God, held the center stage.

The introduction of this system in the Muslim societies attacked their most basic beliefs and produced a generation of educated men and women who had little knowledge of and far less commitment to their religious beliefs. They served in the colonial administrative systems as low-ranking agents of implementation of the colonial agenda. This educational system is still operative in the Muslim world and it is still producing men and women who see the purpose of education as nothing more than a means for good jobs.

But this was not all. After the colonization, a judgment was pronounced on Islam and Islamic civilization by the victors. Bluntly stated, this judgment was this: Islam was a religion which had its day but which was not suitable for the modern world; it was a religion that was inimical to progress, which was identified with science and technology. As for the Islamic civilization and the tradition of learning, it was grudgingly accepted to have been the harbinger of the Greek heritage, but merely that.

It is not the Orientalists’ judgment itself that is the most painful and devastating aspect of this whole affair; it is the acceptance of this judgment by Muslims.

When the first phase of independence was over, the Muslim masses realized that their struggle had changed little in their lives. This led to a widespread resentment followed by a series of coups and changes of governments through mass uprisings. This produced political instability. In the sixties, this instability gave rise to a series of “revolutions”. The most frequent label for these so-called revolutions was “socialism”, though often with some qualitative adjective like “Arab” or even “Islamic” attached to the label. By the mid-seventies, this trend had also lost its force without affecting any major change in the fundamental structure of the societies. These successive experiments with alien systems made it clear to the masses that they must return to their own process of evolution, based on the teachings of Islam. This gave rise to the present trends of resurgence of Islam in the Muslim societies.

Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal:

A scientist by training, an Islamic scholar by vocation, a novelist, and a poet, Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and ScienceCanada, and editor of Islam & Science, a journal on science and civilization from Islamic perspectives.

He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from University of SaskatchewanCanada, but most of his published work is related to Islam and various aspects of Islamic civilization, including the Islamic scientific tradition. Born in Lahore,Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), Universityof Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). He is currently working on a major project, Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, a first of its kind reference work on the Qur'an. He is also the General Editor of Ashgate's forthcoming series, Islam and Science: Historic and Contemporary Perspectives.

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